Producer, songwriter, philanthropist and entrepreneur Pharrell Williams will return to Charlottesville to keynote the University of Virginia’s 2019 Valedictory Exercises.
Williams, a Virginia Beach native, will address UVa’s graduating class at 3 p.m. May 17 on the Lawn. The event is free and open to the public. UVa also will present class gifts and awards at the event, which is the traditional kickoff of graduation weekend.
Professor of medicine Dr. B. Cameron Webb and retiring Dean of Nursing Dorrie Fontaine will speak at UVa’s Final Exercises ceremonies on May 18 and 19, respectively.
Williams has 13 Grammy Awards, including Producer of the Year in 2004, 2014 and 2019. He also received the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers’ prestigious Golden Note Award in 2012.
His song “Happy,” featured in “Despicable Me 2,” received an Academy Award nomination in 2014.
Williams performed at the Concert for Charlottesville in September 2017. At the event, he referenced the deadly Unite the Right rally.
“This is Virginia,” Williams said, of efforts to divide people. “They thought that they could mobilize, come to this campus and separate us,” he said, before performing the song “Freedom.”
Williams has a long and varied resume in the arts: the pop musician has worked on numerous movies, books and TV shows. He is launching a Virginia Beach music and arts festival, dubbed Something in the Water, this summer. He co-produced and co-scored the Oscar-nominated film “Hidden Figures,” a movie about groundbreaking women at NASA based on the book by Charlottesville resident and UVa graduate Margot Lee Shetterly.
He also runs a foundation that offers summer camps to children and a multimedia creative collective.
“We are so excited to be welcoming Pharrell Williams back to Charlottesville,” fourth-year class President Galen Green said in a news release from UVa. “He has proven time and time again that he understands what our class has been through and experienced, and he is someone who will be able to relate to us, speak truth to our experiences and inspire us. We are so grateful to have him as our keynote speaker.”